When Search Engines go wrong

Search Engines are providing a service, and as such, they’re only as good as the service they provide.

As a SEO person, I’ll repeatedly advise my clients that Google is THE one to optimise for in the UK, largely on the grounds that it’s simply the search engine that people use most.

What’s really perturbing, (or perhaps really reassuring?) is that Google gets it wrong.  It’s a natural thing, and people in Google spend so much time striving to get it better and better, but inevitably at times they just get the results plain wrong.

A couple of classic examples can be seen in my hobby and obsession of cycling.  I scour the internet for content on cycling from all sorts of angles; best bargains – niche, bespoke advice – hard-to-come-by event results, etc.  It’s a microcosm of the SEO world… commerce, blogs, forums, mainstream, niche, etc.

I wanted to check out some reviews this evening of “Frogglegs Cantilever Brakes” – a pretty niche product as it happens – something important to me at this particular time for whatever reason. Top of the Google results this evening for “frogglegs review” was this page. It sums it up for me – when things go wrong. I searched for a review – of which there are many on the internet, but unless you’re a search maestro, you’re going to have to wade through a good number of ‘SEO’d sites before you get to the ‘real thing’.

Another classic irritation is – perhaps more seriously – a very well respected site – Wiggle – who have made much of their ‘Hitwise’ awards for great SEO. So much so, it seems, that they attract clicks from people (experienced SEOs included… 🙂 ) for products that they don’t actually have for sale. I went on their site having Googled the prices for a particular set of cycle road racing tyres and found that they weren’t immediately available. No bother – they were available in 2-5 days. But hang on… 2-5 days passed…. two weeks passed… I had to check my account to find out where this product I’d bought – on the strength of its visibility in Google – was. “Should be in stock within 30 days”. Hang on…? I’ve already paid – I Googled it – you came up tops…!

The lesson for today is that sometimes SEO does its job a bit too well. Yes – sometimes it pays my bills, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I knew I’d just brought traffic to a site only for that traffic to be effectively useless. (And okay smart alecs… I also can’t sleep at night because of a three month old baby !)